Captain William H. Short (1824 –
Co. H, 2nd. California Volunteer Infantry (October, 1861 -
Co. F, 2nd. Massachusetts Cavalry (April,1863 – December, 1863 )
Co. K, 22nd. U.S.C.T. (January, 1864 – May, 1865)
Short and Mary Jane*
images courtesy of Short's gggrandson
submitted by David Stephenson
"I first ran across Captain Short
while researching a
skirmish that occurred between the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry and Colonel John
Mosby and his 43rd Virginia Cavalry at Coyle’s Tavern, Virginia in 1863. Apparently
Mosby and his men surprised the 2nd.
Massachusetts troopers while they were dismounted and watering their horses in
front of the tavern which was located about three miles from Fairfax Courthouse,
Virginia. At the first sound of the Rebel yell most of the Massachusetts men scattered
with the exception of Privates Short and Charles Jenkins who stood their ground
and fired at the approaching Confederate cavalry. Their first shots apparently
wounded Colonel Mosby who broke off from the fight and took to the woods
followed by many of his men. As a result of the temporary withdrawal, Short, who
was also wounded, and several Union men escaped to the woods in the opposite
direction. Several other Massachusetts men including Jenkins, who was also
wounded, remained in the tavern and ultimately surrendered when they ran out of
ammunition. Private Short was 38 years old at the time of the skirmish. He was married,
the father of 6 children under eleven, and a prosperous farmer when he enlisted
in Mayfield, California in 1861. It intrigued me that someone that
"mature" with so many responsibilities and so far from the center of
action would join the army."
William Hubbard Short was born in Hennepin, Putnam County, Illinois in 1824.
He was the son of John and Elizabeth Short, who were pioneers in the Hennepin
area. The family was originally from Kentucky and before that, Virginia. John
Short served in the local Ranger company during the War of 1812. He died in
Hennepin around 1868.
According to his Union Army service record Short stood 6 ft. 2 ins. (which
was very tall for the period) had a light complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes.
In 1846, at the age of 22, he traveled to San Antonio, Texas to enlist as a
volunteer in the Texas cavalry. Short served two six month enlistments; one in
Long’s Company, Texas Mounted Rifles as a private for six months in 1847; and
then as a sergeant in Colonel Hay’s Company G, 3rd. Texas Mounted Volunteers.
The 3rd. Texas Mounted Rifles formed the nucleus of what later became the Texas
Rangers. The frontiersmen like Short comprising this unit were also known for
the harsh way in which they dealt with anything remotely pro-Mexican during the
war in Texas.
By 1848 Short had returned to Illinois and married Mary Jane Smith of
Hennepin. Mary Jane was 14 years of age and Short was 24. He traveled with his wife and their two small children by wagon train to Mayfield
(present day Palo Alto), Santa Clara County, California in about 1852. He farmed
in this general area for the next eight years and according to the 1860 U.S.
Census had acquired a personal net worth of $4,000 and employed four hired hands
on a leased acreage.
When President Lincoln called for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil
War, Short enlisted as a private in the 2nd. California Volunteer Infantry. He
subsequently received permission to recruit a company of 100 men in Mayfield and
San Francisco and was commissioned as a Captain of Company H, 2nd. California
Rather than go east to fight in the Civil War as they were originally told by
the government, Short’s company replaced the Regular U.S. Army troops who
headed east to fight. Company H was detailed for garrison duty in San Francisco,
Santa Barbara, Benicia, Alcatraz, and for many months at Fort Humbolt and Camp
Lincoln near modern day Eureka, California. The principal duties of the
California units were to guard the California gold (which in part, financed the
Union war efforts) against potential Confederate attacks plus to watch the
Mormons, British, Russians and the Indians. From all accounts, this was all
pretty dreary and unrewarding work for these soldiers and the units suffered
from poor morale, desertion and alcoholism. Ten companies of the 2nd. California
patrolled approximately 20,000 square miles.
Once it became clear that the California units were not going back East to
fight, Short tendered his resignation in December, 1862. Perhaps more than
coincidental was the fact that Captain Short was to be summoned before a Board
Of Inquiry at Fort Humbolt in early January 1863. The Inquiry concerned his
alleged mismanagement of the Indian reservation at Round Valley where many
Indians were dying of disease and starvation. His resignation was not accepted
until late January, 1863 which was time enough for him to lead one more
expedition against the Hoopla Indian band in the redwoods along the Trinity
River in Northern California. When the second group of Californians was recruited for the Second Mass. (the
California Battalion) Short was one of the last men signed, and as a private,
and left for the East.
After a few weeks of training Short and his unit were posted to Washington D.
C. The duties of the 2nd. Mass. Cavalry included protecting the Union lines
from raids by Confederate cavalry and guerrillas who operated at the edges of
the Capital. Most of the time the horse soldiers were placed as pickets at the
edge of the Union lines or used in raids upon suspected Confederate stores. The
countryside around Washington was empty and gloomy with many homes and barns
burned and cattle driven off in an effort to remove the Confederate s from their
supplies and supporters and to supply the needs of the Union forces. As a
result, the remaining civilians who were for the most part sympathetic to the
South, were very hostile to the Union forces. It was not unusual for these
people to appear to be innocent farmers by day and active confederate guerrillas
raiding Union camps and supply points by night.
When the attack at Coyle’s Tavern took place, Short was on a detail with
approximately twenty men with the task of herding 100 horses from the cavalry
remount station at Arlington to the Union camp near Fairfax Court House. According to Mosby's subsequent written account, the ambush was hastily
planned as he was on his way to burn bridges when he chanced upon the Union
convoy. The skirmish occurred long the Little River Turnpike, which I believe is
now Route 236, near Fairfax Court House, Virginia at about 4:00 pm. Short is
mentioned by name as the first man to fire his weapon at the attacking enemy.
I've read one account where Short’s horse was shot from under him, but he kept
firing his weapon from the prone position at Mosby. The rest of Union soldiers
took cover at Coyle's Tavern. Two of the 2nd Mass. Cavalry men, John McCarty,
29 and Joseph B. Varnum, 37 were killed. Short was wounded along with John
McKinney, 29, and George Vierick, 23, but the three escaped capture.
Upon hearing of the wounding and probable death of Colonel Mosby, Governor
Lowe of California is reported to have recommended that the man who shot Mosby
be immediately promoted. Private Short was advanced to Sergeant as a result.
Short served as a Sergeant in Company F from late August, 1963 until
December, 1863. He applied and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in Company
K, 22nd. United States Colored Troops (USCT) in January, 1864. At this time he
was 38. According to army records, less than half of the men applying for
leadership positions in the USCT were accepted. One not only had to believe in
the cause of emancipation and arming blacks, but also be very familiar with army
regulations and tactics. Additionally, since all white officers captured leading
blacks were to be shot by the capturing Confederates, and the black Union
enlisted men executed or returned to slavery, fighting to the death was the only
option for both officers and enlisted men of the USCT.
Short ultimately assumed command of Company K upon the death of the company
commander in the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1864 and in the trenches besieging
Petersburg. Upon the assassination of President Lincoln, the 22nd. was ordered
to Washington, D.C. where it marched in the front of the procession carrying
Lincoln’s coffin from the White House to the Capital Building. They
subsequently participated in the search for John Wilkes Booth in Maryland. After
the surrender of the Confederate armies, Short resigned his commission and
returned to California, eventually settling in San Juan Baptista. There he
worked as a laborer. I’m not sure when and why he lost his farm in Mayfield.
He eventually moves to his daughter’s home in Topanis, Idaho. There or nearby
he died on March 23, 1886.
While William Short attempted to gather the information necessary to apply
for a pension, one appears never to have been granted by either the State of
Texas for his Mexican War service or the U.S. Government for his Civil War
service. His wife, Mary Jane Smith*, who left Short and
their six children for another man during his
time at Fort Humbolt, applied for a pension after his death. In fact, the
Pension Board investigated her shaky claim and denied it on the basis of her
notorious and adulterous conduct!